At least three people are dead and 19 were injured in a fire that broke out Wednesday evening inside an industrial warehouse in the northeastern Spanish city of Badalona, where firefighters continue to look for victims inside a building that has partially collapsed. The warehouse was home to squatters, most of whom were migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. Three people are reported to be in critical condition and four more in serious condition according to medical emergency services, the news agency EFE reported.
The Catalan chief of internal affairs, Miquel Sàmper, said on Thursday that the fire brigade is dealing with the added difficulties of not knowing how many people might still be inside, and the risk of the entire structure crashing down. There have already been four partial collapses inside the warehouse, one of them just five minutes after the firefighters went in, “posing a risk to their lives.”
“We are working without information, practically blind,” said Sàmper at a news conference. “There has been no cooperation from the victims, there is a language barrier, and nobody has warned that they have relatives, friends or acquaintances inside.”
The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, but drones and trained dogs were sent to the spot where the blaze began and no victims were found in the area. Firefighters were able to enter a second building that is part of the warehouse, where they located three bodies.
“We know there might be more people in there, but the situation is highly compromised,” said the chief of the fire brigade, David Borrell. “The fire was completely developed, and that is incompatible with life.”
One of the survivors, a 43-year-old Senegalese man named Mamadou Dieye, said he tried to save a friend’s sister from the flames, but believes that she is dead now. “She died in my hands. I have been zero centimeters from death.”
Nobody knows for certain how many people were living inside the warehouse, which has been occupied by squatters for years. “We were never able to go in,” said Badalona Mayor Xavier García Albiol, of the Popular Party (PP), explaining that this would require a court warrant that they did not have.
According to local residents, there have been between 150 and 200 people living inside the warehouse at times. On Wednesday, local officials were able to identify 60 of the people who were found inside. Of these, only 15 have accepted assistance from Badalona’s social services.
According to the survivor Mamadou Dieye, there were over 100 people living inside the three-story building. “From Senegal, from Ghana, from Cameroon, from Nigeria…” he said. “There were mattresses, things we collect to send to our families or to sell.”
The mayor said that the warehouse has been occupied for “around seven or eight years.” According to him, there had been friction between the squatters and local residents for the last two or three years. “There were very significant conflicts of insecurity and coexistence,” he said. García Albiol said that a joint patrol of the National Police and local law enforcement officers had been at the site around “10 to 15 minutes” before the fire broke out.
English version by Susana Urra.